The major reason cited for Immanuel’s move from the Near North to Edgewater was proximity to a large number of its members’ homes. A secondary reason, however, was certainly a sense that the present neighborhood was deteriorating and becoming unsafe. Even the move to more affluent Edgewater, it would develop, was no guarantee that one could escape the challenges of urban ministry in the twentieth century.
Edgewater, along with its neighbors Rogers Park and Uptown, was a wealthy, socially vibrant, and artistically rich section of Chicago in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Decline set in after World War II, and was precipitous in some neighborhoods. Edgewater fared better than the adjacent areas, but even there poverty, hunger, and inadequate housing became major community issues. The flight of more affluent families and young people to the suburbs compounded these problems. Energetic efforts by members of the community and neighborhood organizations were able to reverse the decline, and Edgewater emerged as a highly desirable portion of the city, while maintaining its strong diversity.
Immanuel’s response to community needs embraced a wide variety of activities, from athletic events to scouting programs, from musical organizations to social groups. The Edgewater Tutoring Program, founded by Sally Grenz, answered the need of neighborhood children for intensive one-on-one assistance. Parish nurse Michelle Knapp likewise created the Together Program to provide support for young children and their caregivers. Both ETP and Together have grown and continue to prosper.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, under the leadership of Pastor Carl McKenzie and youth director Ken Duckmann, Immanuel became a center of innovative youth ministry for the north side of Chicago. With a volunteer staff of 14 people and the support of the Search Institute and Lutheran Brotherhood, the Immanuel Youth Organization conducted workshops, retreats, a stress-management class, Bible studies, and other weekly activities. One outgrowth of this program was the formation of a cooperative Lutheran youth ministry, which at one time included 15 churches. Many of these programs continued under Duckmann’s successors.
A key feature of life in Edgewater has been the cooperation of religious bodies in ministry to the community. The Edgewater Community Religious Association (ECRA) was instrumental in the formation of the neighborhood food pantry, Care for Real. Immanuel’s close ties to St. Gertrude Catholic Parish and Temple Emanuel have also been a source of spiritual enrichment for the three congregations.